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Syracuse football 2016 position preview: Special teams

Our last position group replaces one of SU’s most important players from the past couple years.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football season’s pretty close now. Just as in years' past, we've been previewing a different SU position group each week to get ready for the new year of football. Last week it was a very young secondary eager to improve. This week, we wrap things up with:

Special Teams

Placekickers

Cole Murphy, Junior

Murphy’s surprising rise has been a welcome one for a Syracuse team looking for a steady scorer these last couple years. The junior has had his hiccups, but is a reliable leg with an ability to hit from distance (has both a 49- and 50-yarder in his career). Preseason hype (Lou Groza nominee, Athlon third-team All-ACC) should be followed by another great effort. He may be on field goals-only this year, which could be a plus.

Alex Grossman, Senior

The walk-on Long Island native just joined this spring, but he does play a critical role if the injury bug arrives as it has from time to time in the past. With luck, he’s an emergency option. If we need to call upon him a) there’s a problem and b) he’ll be putting those kicking/soccer skills from high school to a pretty stressful test.

Punters

Sterling Hofrichter, (Redshirt) Freshman

“The Hof” has some big shoes to fill following Heisman-winner-in-our-hearts Riley Dixon’s departure to the NFL. The hype Hofrichter arrived with certainly gives us some hope, even if he takes a year or so to truly round into a very good college punter. He’s also an option for kicking duties if needed, as that was his specialty back in high school.

Nolan Cooney, Freshman

#COONEYLEGACY continues! Though he has no relation to former Orange basketball player Trevor, Nolan’s a pretty incredible guy in his own right. Diagnosed with cancer in high school, he’s recovered and is in remission now. He plays both kicker and punter and is a quality depth walk-on to have on the roster right now.

Long Snappers

Matt Keller, Sophomore

The nation’s best long snapper recruit arrived on campus last year and was a major contributor right away. He’ll have the gig once more in 2016, though not without some challenges as he adjusts to a new punter in Hofrichter. Not the worst thing, of course. But a change to consider as both parties get settled this fall.

Nathan Hines, Junior

Hines is a walk-on that unfortunately sits behind Keller on the depth chart. While he’s highly unlikely to see the field at all, it’s not a bad gig to be at the ready. Long snapper is one of those positions that you don’t think you need two of them until... you do. Hines’s presence is appreciated.

Kick Returner/Punt Returner

Brisly Estime, Senior

Last year, Estime established himself as one of the conference’s best punt returners, and it’s possible he could surpass last year’s numbers given the pace Syracuse will play with this year. Even if opponents avoid kicking to him (they did for a time last year), Estime will once again be a dynamic special teams factor for SU, with a couple records in sight.

***

Replacing Dixon will be no easy task, even from just a pure punting standpoint. Elsewhere, however, Syracuse does bring back a lot of what made last year’s special teams improve, which should at least give hope for continuity elsewhere. Having a full-time special teams coach (Tom Kaufman) on staff for the first time in quite awhile should also help the transition. There’s been some silence around this unit in camp so far, though. Then again, it’s tough to replace a legend overnight. We’ll miss you, Riley. Hope you’re thinking of us while leaping over (and punching) defenders in Denver.